Featured: Sixth Edition – Seven Films From The Criterion Channel
Swing Time (1936)
Along with Top Hat, The Gay Divorcee, and The Barkleys of Broadway, it is among the most well-known films of Ginger Rodgers and Fred Astaire. Plus, it was directed by George Stevens, who would later do Woman Of The Year, A Place In The Sun, Giant, and The Diary of Anne Frank. It features some of the best dancing sequences from any film, pound-for-pound, and the swooping cameras that capture it all; the “Never Gonna Dance” sequence was shot 47 times. The songs from the film would among the biggest hits that year, namely “The Way You Look Tonight” which won Best Original Song at the Oscars, and symbolized the escapism needed during the Great Depression still clouding the country.
David Cronenberg’s Canadian-based films were our opening into an innovative mind that had science fiction wrapped around his head after The Brood just two years earlier. This nearly perfect gem follows a group of people who have strong telekinesis, telepathic powers. One man, Daryl Revok, is set out to get other scanners and band together to take over the world, while another unfound scanner, Cameron Vale, is sought to help fight Revok and his dangerous crusade. Battling a blown budget, incomplete scripts, and difficulty in getting the special effects right (they hired the legendary Dick Smith), Cronenberg is able to construct a literal battle of wits and minds between two opposite scanners connected by one final twist of fate.
French director Bruno Dumont’s sophmore effort dives into the behavior of a police detectice who is hunting down a rapist and murderer. The detective has suffered his own tragedy and does not have yet the same emotion of being connected to others when he works on bringing down the killer of this heinous crime. The idea for L’Humanite came from his first film, La Vie de Jesus, about how a police officer has to emotionally keep in check his feelings when it comes to arrested certain criminals. Here, in a small town, the detective has to go in and find his man while as being reserved to others. This is a mystery spun with very few words in the vein of Robert Bresson’s minimalism to commit to images rather than speaking out things we already would know.
War And Peace (1968)
It was the Leo Tolstoy adaptation that so many tried to get off the ground and in complete form; the American 1957 version by King Vidor was 3.5 hours long but was so watered down it derelicts the point of Tolstoy’s novel. In four parts and a running time of 431 minutes, it was the most expensive film made in the Soviet Union and became a success all over the world. Director Sergei Bondarchuk co-wrote and starred in the main role, a demanding trifecta which earned him huge acclaim and won the Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best International Film plus civilian awards from the state. Technically, the film was an eye-opener, shooting on 70 mm film with massive crane shots and a six-channel audio system for sound, as well as astounding costumes and set decortations that is affluent as Gone With The Wind and Doctor Zhivago. It could be what the famous author had envisioned in its 1,225 pages.
Autumn Sonata (1978)
Ingmar Bergman collaborated with the other famous, non-related Bergman, Ingrid, in this story of a mother and daughter (played by Liv Ullman) trying to repair their acrimonious relationship by discussing the events that caused their estrangement. It’s a two-hander by two brilliant actresses and handled by someone who knew how to control and develop strong women fighting for self-respect from the other. Two things to note: this film was made in Norway and produced by West Germany because of Bergman’s fight with his native land over an alleged tax evasion accusation (he was later cleared). The second thing is a three-and-half hour behind-the-scenes documentary of the film could be found. From the very beginning to the very end, you can watch how just one film from among the greats came about naturally like a fly on the wall.
The Long Day Closes (1992)
After creating the beautiful Distant Voices, Still Lives (which I not have seen and desire to), writer/director Terrence Davies followed it up with The Long Day Closes. Both have autobiographical references. It is set in Liverpool in the 1950s where a shy 11-year-old is trapped in the bind of faith, work, and family and finds solace in going to the movies. Davies’ work like this one is a slow pace where the shots do all of the talking for us, capturing the mood of what the boy is thinking. It’s a brisk 85 minutes into the short span of the boy’s life and the early sensibilities about himself that reflect on Davies’ own childhood, including the tingles of his future in movies and being gay (as Davies is).
From Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project, a Moroccan band is followed as the documentary traces the history of African music and how the band, Nass El Ghiwane, became the biggest band in Africa with its influence of Western music, traditional folk lyrics, and social messaging at the time. The band is portrayed as Morocco’s Beatles, installing messages to society of what was happening and what needed to change, similar to the cries of Bob Dylan. Soon, their fame goes beyond Africa and into the Mediterranean nations in Spain, France, and Italy that become aware of this movement, world music that is for everyone.
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